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Ask the Doctor: Appointments, immunizations and more back-to-school tips

Many parents and kids may not think about heading back to school during the middle of summer, but it’s a good time to make sure children are up-to-date on their health records and prepared for the first day of school.

Rachel Dawkins, M.D., FAAP, medical director of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, reminds parents about the most important things to consider for the new school year.

Why is it important to schedule a doctor’s visit now before school starts?

In August, pediatrician offices are packed with the rush of kids who need an annual physical or vaccines in time for the start of school or the sports season. Making an appointment now is a good idea to make sure kids are up to date on their vaccines and have an exam for any new or recurring health issues.

What is discussed at a preventative care visit?

The pediatrician usually discusses all aspects of the child’s growth and development including:

  • Development
  • Learning and behavior
  • Growth spurts/puberty
  • Nutrition and exercise
  • Vision and hearing
  • Safety issues (car seats, helmets, etc.)

When are immunizations required for school?

There are several vaccines your child should receive throughout childhood. It’s important to make sure they receive these at the correct times to protect them from harmful diseases. Many daycare centers, schools and camps also require shot records to be up to date, so it’s a good idea to get a copy of your child’s immunizations at their annual visit. The state of Florida requires children to be up to date by kindergarten and seventh grade.

How can parents help ease anxiety?

  • Remind your child about the positive aspects of starting school: seeing old friends and making new ones.
  • Let your child know that it is normal to feel nervous about the first day of school — and most other kids and even teachers might be nervous.
  • If possible, introduce your child to another child who will be riding the bus or walking the same route to school. Familiar faces help!

How important is sleep and how do we get our kids back into a good routine?

Most kids require 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Without a good night’s sleep, children have been shown to have behavioral and learning problems at school. It’s important to get your kids back into the school night bedtime routine early.

Related: Your Kids and Sleep – What every parent needs to know for every stage of childhood

It can take up to 10 days to adjust to a new sleep schedule. Roll back bedtime to their usual hour, stop all electronics at least one hour before bedtime and limit caffeine.

What should we consider before choosing a backpack?

Backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20 percent of your child’s body weight. If your child can leave books at school, that can help (as well as routinely cleaning out the backpack). Pick a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and encourage your child to use both straps. If your school allows, consider a rolling backpack.

Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Newsroom for more tips on back to school, mental health and other timely pediatric topics.


*Presented by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Rachel Dawkins, M.D.https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Services/Pediatric-and-Adolescent-Medicine/General-Pediatrics
Rachel Dawkins, M.D. is medical director of the Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Clinics in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Department of Pediatric Medicine, seeing patients as a pediatrician in St. Petersburg, Florida. She also is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  Dr. Dawkins is active nationally with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Board of Pediatrics. Her research and teaching interests are in childhood resilience, advocacy, resident education and obesity. She earned her medical degree at the University of Miami. She completed her residency at Louisiana State University, where she also completed a year as chief resident. As a faculty member at LSU, Dr. Dawkins spent six years as an associate program director for the pediatric residency program.

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